Issue 10: Winter 2012
Tactic, Cork. September 12th-23rd.
‘Television', an exhibition at the Tactic gallery last September curated by Sarah Lundy and, one is tempted to say, ‘collaged' from moving image work by the Mart arts organisation, was a great place to be. Three dim, narrow chambers made from white painted boards flickering and buzzing with sound and moving image. Walk in there with your eyes shut and you'd already sense the dense presence of busy monitors and projectors, urgently emanating light. Even without looking at the pictures, pleasure could be taken watching the blue-ish interaction of telly-light reflected on the walls. The carefully managed density of the presentation was refreshing; a glance around the show, happening as it was in a small gallery, still gave the impression that even with a week to spare, it would be impossible to see everything. And that even if one did manage to see everything, it would be necessary to go back and start again to do any sort of justice to all the work on display.
This is not to imply that the show was a mess; on the contrary, this sense of overload was very precisely designed in its layout. On entering, one is primed by the first work that presents itself, an installation comprised of a stack of televisions and monitors of different shapes and dimensions, but conveying an overall impression of cathode ray retro. Each screen shows a relatively simple work by a different artist, diverse images but (if memory serves) all conveying a single action or vision. Two of the screens are even ‘blank', although actually alive with white noise. Ironically, this first vision of image-overload is actually the easiest to apprehend in its entirety. The three wall-mounted monitors and one further projection in this space, whilst not scattering works spatially in the same way as the TV stack, turn out to contain exceptionally long looped programmes of works by different artists. Mart has become the content of ‘television' and this proliferation of works reflects the vastness of TV programming, the impossibility of seeing everything, the constant feed of ever more sound and vision.
And yet there is one aspect of television that the show does not replicate and that's the impression of a connection with the ‘outside', of content being ‘beamed in'. This links in with the pre-digital, certainly pre-internet, vibe of the show in a rather poignant way. A collection of obsolete pieces of equipment no longer communicating with the outside world, endlessly looping back the same material to each other. This process is reflected in the installations in the two other rooms. Darragh O'Callaghan's Surface projects an image of a naked body vanishing into and resurfacing from a bath of milk onto a white surface lying on the ground. A looped action that erases and re-inscribes an image in a looped projection. And Margaret O'Brien's striking I Knew It Was Something can be seen as the key to whole exhibition. Although set apart in a room of its own, the sound from this installation permeated the whole gallery. A large clock is hung on one wall, its arm flickering forward and dropping lamely back, stuck in one movement, in one repeated moment. On the other wall, a flourescent tube with a faulty starter repeatedly tries and fails to turn on. The sound of these actions is mic-ed and amplified. Television as we knew it has become a museum to its own processes, an echo of once-limitless content now cut off by time. Only the tellies themselves don't realise this.
This sense of a historicised medium ties in with the inspiration behind ‘Television', Marshal McLuhan's writings from the 1960s, which famously explore the relationship of medium and content. In presenting pieces this way, Lundy equally foregrounds the relationship between curator/concept and the work of the artists featured. It would be exaggerating to imply that this exhibition as a concept completely devoured its artists. It was possible to enjoy individual pieces on their own merits. (And, for me, Ciaran Hussey's Unit Copy 1 was ‘Television's stand-out video). But it certainly problematises this relationship in an uncommonly radical way.
- Maximilian Le Cain